Skip to content

4 Reasons US Military Isn’t Prepared to Face Worst Enemies

Photo by Joel Rivera-Camacho / Unsplash

By Fred Lucas, The Daily Signal | January 24, 2024

The U.S. military is at risk of being unable to defend America’s national interests against foes such as China, Russia, and Iran, concludes The Heritage Foundation’s new Index of U.S. Military Strength.

“This is the inevitable result of years of prolonged deployments, underfunding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution, and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to U.S. interests have surged,” the report says. 

The report, titled “Decade of Decline: The Need to Restore America’s Military Power,” is the 10th edition of the Index of U.S. Military Strength. Heritage began issuing the annual assessment in 2015 as a report card of sorts for the state of military power and readiness. 

“What do we do to answer 10 years of decline?” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked during remarks Wednesday about the index at Heritage’s Capitol Hill headquarters. 

As a possible answer, Wicker cited former President Ronald Reagan’s call to spend 5% of the nation’s gross domestic product on building up the military.

“I think we are going to have to go big,” Wicker said, later adding: “Increasing our defense budget by 3 to 5% I do not think is enough.” 

The Mississippi Republican said he worries that lawmakers in Congress are complacent. 

“We are now living in the most dangerous moment since World War II,” Wicker said. “People call it Cold War II. We need to be reminded of that.” 

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts thanked Wicker and other lawmakers but in his own remarks said, “Congress has failed the American people.”

“We don’t celebrate that. But we are willing to highlight it so that this changes,” Roberts said.

“Our military is weak and unprepared for conflict,” he said, adding later: “It’s bad news that comes from an utter lack of innovation. An utter lack of willingness to make tough policy decisions, not just [for] the national defense but across the entire federal budget.”

China’s ‘Comprehensive and Daunting’ Challenge

Heritage’s new report assesses China as the “most comprehensive and daunting national security challenge” to U.S. interests. 

The index says:

The Chinese military can no longer be viewed as a distant competitor. China has begun to field indigenous aircraft carriers and advanced missile technology. It is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and conducting live-fire exercises and mock blockades around Taiwan. If current trends persist, the gap between the Chinese and U.S. militaries will likely narrow further, and the idea that China might surpass U.S. capabilities in some fields will seem far less implausible.

The index scores China as “aggressive” in its provocative behavior and “formidable” in capability.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a committed communist, something that could work to the advantage of the United States, Wicker said. 

“Xi Jinping is not only a brutal dictator and the author of genocide on a large scale, but he’s also a true communist, he is a true Marxist,” Wicker said, “and as such, one of the good bits of news out of the People’s Republic of China is that China’s economy is the one black mark against its strategic strength. He is running the country into the ground.” 

But Wicker noted that China’s capacity to build warships is 232 times that of America. 

“There is one thing going really well in Communist China and that is their military buildup. They’ve had a decade of rejuvenation,” he said. 

Russia ‘Hostile and Formidable’

The U.S. decision to shoulder a large burden to defend  Ukraine against Russia contributed to the decline of the military, Heritage’s new index says.  

“In 2023, this has been compounded by the cost of U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s assault, which is further exacerbated by the limited willingness of allies in Europe to shoulder a greater share of the burden,” it says. 

The report assesses Russia as “hostile,” with a “formidable” capability:

Although Russia has the military capability to harm and (in the case of its nuclear arsenal) to pose an existential threat to the U.S., it has not yet conclusively demonstrated the intent to do so. Nevertheless, especially in view of its war against Ukraine, Russia remains a significant threat to America’s interests and allies in the European region. Russia may not be the threat to U.S. global interests that the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, but it does pose challenges to a range of America’s interests and those of its allies.

Where Military Branches Stand

The aggregate score for America’s major military branches is “weak,” the index concludes.  

Only the Marine Corps gained a positive score of “strong.”

However, the report notes that “the Corps is a one-war force, and its overall strength is therefore not sufficient to compensate for the shortfalls of its larger fellow services.”

In the worst shape is the Air Force, which the report ranks “very weak.” 

It ranks the Navy and relatively new Space Force as “weak” and the Army as “marginal.” The U.S. nuclear arsenal also got the “marginal” designation. 

“With respect to nuclear capabilities, if the United States should need to deploy nuclear weapons, the escalation into nuclear conflict would seem to imply that handling such a crisis would challenge even a fully ready Joint Force at its current size and equipped with modern weapons,” Heritage’s report says. 

The military has a problem with the accountability of its leaders, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who was national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence and chief of staff for the National Security Council during the Trump administration.

“We need to really look at our leadership and the amount of leadership we have and what they are really doing,” Kellogg said. “I’ll give you one simple word: accountability. Where is the accountability? We lost a 20-year war in Afghanistan. Who was held accountable for all the mistakes we made in the military? We have made them, we just haven’t owned up to them.”

The retired general also said the military has become quite bureaucratic and lacks an overall strategy. 

“My greatest fear is that the current commander in chief does not have the will,” Kellogg said, referring to President Joe Biden. “If you don’t have the political will, you can have all the capability and capacity in the world. But if you are not willing to use it, it’s worthless.”

Middle East and Iranian-Sponsored Terrorism

Heritage’s new report warns of the growing threat from Iran as a “nuclear threshold state controlling a constellation of terrorist groups.”

“The Oct. 7 attack on Israel and subsequent Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. forces in the region significantly enhance the risk of escalation,” the report says. “This risk represents an unprecedented range of challenges beyond our capacity and the capacity of our partners and allies to address threats to global energy and trade.”

The index notes that the Middle East accounts for 31% of the world’s oil production, 18% of gas production, 48% of proven oil reserves, and 40% of proven gas reserves.

“Although the region’s overall score remains ‘moderate’ as it was last year, it is in danger of falling to ‘poor’ because of political instability and growing bilateral tensions with allies over the security implications of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran and how best to fight the Islamic State [terrorist organization],” the report says.

Fred Lucas is chief news correspondent and manager of the Investigative Reporting Project for The Daily Signal. Lucas is also the author of "The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left's Assault on Clean Elections."